When I wrote that post on Friday about the
Pod Book People who either can’t or won’t speak the truth about the current state of the industry, I was planning just to leave it at the level of patting myself on the back and thinking about how best to point out what the Book People weren’t saying the next time I quoted and commented on a piece from, say, Publishers Weekly or The Bookseller.
But an email on Saturday morning from a Book People pundit got me thinking. That pundit thought he was a truth teller. I disagreed, and as I laid out the reasons in my head I realized that I had a wishlist of what I wanted that pundit to say if they truly were ready to speak truth to power.
I have been writing about industry trends in bits and pieces in each news story, but it has been a long while since I last pulled everything together, took a step back, and told you what I see.
I can sum it up in a single sentence: The major publishers are dead because they bet against digital, which is the future.
The thing about the major publishers is that they thought they could make the market go where they wanted.
They didn’t want ebooks to cannibalize print sales, so they conspired with Apple in early 2010 to bring about the Agency model. Then they doubled down on their bet with Agency 2.0, and hedged that bet by sabotaging subscription ebook services like Scribd and Oyster by saddling them with nonviable business models.
It is now 2017, and book publishing is in the later stages of a transition to digital.
One of the two successful subscription ebook services, Kindle Unlimited, is now bigger than Kobo, Nook, and Google Play. The other, Safari Books Online, belongs to O’Reilly because Pearson bet against digital and sold its stake in 2014 when it should have bought the service.
Nonfiction sales have been cannibalized by the internet and services like Pluralsight and Youtube, textbook publishers are running scared at the thought that open source curricula is rendering them obsolete, and the fiction market has swung heavily to digital.
The major publishers bet against digital, and they continue to do so, and it is going to kill them in the long run. In fact, we can see them die bit by bit. First they dropped mid-list authors, then they started dropping best-selling authors.
At this point it is an absolute certainty that any publisher that isn’t focusing digital first and print second is jut as dead as the Big Five. (Yes, there are some categories and niches that are exceptions to the rule, but I stand by my prediction.)
The future of book publishing is digital. Are you ready to face it, or will you join Penguin Random House on the scrap heap of history?
image by John Vetterli